Picture walks: My Carolina wren

By Jeanne Church

I have a sweet little Carolina wren who’s been visiting me all winter long. He picks out a small peanut heart from one of our feeders and brings it to the rubber mat just outside our sliding glass door that leads to a second story deck. I watch with amusement from the comfort of my favorite chair as he drops the nut into one of the recesses of the mat and breaks it into smaller pieces using his long, curved beak. This little wren has been coming almost every day throughout the winter and I always look forward to his visits.

As I sit here writing this, it is early March and another snow storm is on the way. I wonder if my little wren will continue to visit once all the snow is gone. These spunky little birds don’t migrate, but once the spring weather sets in, they typically abandon the backyard feeders and go foraging in the wild.

I am delighted to have him here because I rarely see Carolina wrens when I’m out on a walk. They are shy, skittish little birds who tend towards hyperactivity as they pick through leaf litter in search of their favorite foods: spiders, caterpillars, moths, beetles, grasshoppers, crickets, and cockroaches. Occasionally, they’ll even eat lizards, frogs, and snakes! I rarely see them on my walks because Carolina wrens like to forage near dense underbrush where they can quickly hide from human intruders.

During our coldest winter months, when the ground is blanketed with snow, Carolina wrens have a hard time finding food. They depend on our feeders for survival, and are particularly fond of suet, peanut hearts, shelled sunflower seeds, and mealworms. My little wren can find all of these tasty treats in our platform feeder, tube feeder, or suet block. He also enjoys taking an occasional drink from our heated birdbath.

There are five different wrens in Michigan, but the Carolina wren and the house wren are the two you will most likely see. To distinguish the Carolina wren from the house wren, look for a white throat and a distinctive white eyebrow stripe. House wrens lack both of these characteristics. Of the two, the Carolina wren is the only one who will readily come to your feeders during the winter. If you want to attract both of these wrens to your yard during the warmer months, create brush piles! Brush piles offer excellent cover, and make a wonderful habitat for the wrens’ favorite edible creatures.

Carolina wrens have a beautiful song, but only the male wren sings. He has a repertoire of several different song variations, but may choose to sing the same one a dozen times before changing his tune. During the spring and early summer, the male Carolina wren may be singing to attract a mate. Later in the year, he may be singing to announce that he has a territory and/or a mate to defend. Some days he may just like singing for the sake of singing! One particularly vocal wren was recorded belting out a song 3,000 times in one day!

The Carolina wren was once considered a bird of the southeastern United States, but its range has slowly crept northward since the mid-1900s, facilitated by rising winter temperatures over the past one hundred years.

I love having my very own Carolina wren here at my back door every day, but not at the expense of global warming.

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